Discerning a Vocation

Maryknoll Sponsors a Vocation Retreat


Crossroads: if life is a journey, we all eventually find ourselves standing at one – a place where possibilities diverge and eventually dissolve into different horizons.  These are places of discernment and decision.  Toward where should I set my sights? 

Which road will bring me there?  How to begin? Sometimes though, when looking ahead, it’s easy to forget that we’re also standing at a place where roads meet and travelers, who have come from different directions, encounter one another.  Now standing at the same junction, stories are shared, advice given and prayers said.

That was one of my “take aways” from a weekend that brought seven men in discernment with Maryknoll together with our Initial Formation community in Chicago.  These were men who came from places as distant as Mexico City, Seattle and New Orleans and as close as Chicago’s North Side.  Together, we shared stories, we prayed and we shared what it means to be a Maryknoll missionary in today’s world.

At the heart of our retreat was a conversation about Maryknoll spirituality.  What is it?  What are its characteristics?  What does it mean to each Maryknoller?  How do we explain it to others?  How do we live by it?  How does it empower us to live?

Father Tom Egan, who missioned many years in Korea and China, led our conversation with a heartfelt sharing of his own missionary vocation, how he was attracted to Maryknoll, assigned overseas and what he ultimately discovered in Asia and within himself.  In the end, Father Tom explained, mission is about relationships.  Those who thrive in mission are those whose hearts are continually open to God and others.  As Father Tom assured our retreatants, “God speaks to us.  God will speak to you if you give God a chance.

Afterward, Seminarians Jonathan Hill, John Siyumbu and Matthew Sim presented their own take on Maryknoll spirituality.  Each spoke from his own perspective and related a Maryknoll spirituality in his own unique way.

Seminarian Jonathan Hill gave us the “AAA”s of Maryknoll – Affability, Availability and Adaptability.  But, while Maryknollers may share these characteristics, the spirituality that emerges is, in reality, unique to each Maryknoller because of the people we encounter in mission, the place and time in which we’re among them, and the needs we face together.  As Jonathan summed up, the spirituality of the people becomes our spirituality – they become a part of our lives, they form and shape us.  They transform us into who we are.

Seminarian Matthew Sim depicted a Maryknoll spirituality through a moving set of portraits of Maryknollers he has met through the years.  These are men and women who transformed his lifeby personal example.  Through them, Matthew experienced a spirit of openness, of hospitality, of oneness, of accompaniment, of service and of joy.  It is primarily through the spirit of openness, Matthew remarked, that all other Maryknoll spiritualities flow.

Seminarian John Siyumbu reaffirmed the room for “uniqueness” characterizing a Maryknoll spirituality.  He portrayed “spirituality” as a bridge connecting a particular way of life to a particular belief.  To cross that bridge requires courage and the conviction that something good will result from the journey.  To be a Maryknoller means to believe that you have something worthy to offer in the journey.  It means tolerating ambiguity and embracing the humility that comes from living through uncertainty.  And, in the end, it means gratitude for all these experiences and more.

Perhaps, in the end, a Maryknoll spirituality is, as Jonathan explained, a spirituality of place and time where people meet, encounter Christ in one another and are transformed.  This was certainly my experience of our retreat.  I came away transformed, my personal blinders opened wider to God’s grace active in the lives of not only our Maryknollers, but also in these seven men discerning Maryknoll.  These men are each at a personal crossroads as they discern God’s call.  For a brief weekend, we found ourselves at the same crossroads in Chicago.  We broke bread and, there, we encountered Christ.

by Greg Darr - Maryknoll Vocation minister